Last Updated: August 2015
With shooting starting on the 12th August, Simon Birch gives an update to Ethical Consumer’s report on the grouse shooting industry.
This isn’t a good time to be a hen harrier, the UK’s most persecuted bird. In the 12 months since Ethical Consumer published its groundbreaking report on how intensively-managed grouse moors are pushing hen harriers to the verge of extinction in England, there’s been a deluge of depressing headlines.
A male hen harrier carrying nesting material. Intensively-managed grouse moors are pushing hen harriers to the verge of extinction in England. Photo: (C) RSPB
Despite the best efforts of the RSPB, which was providing round the clock protection, this spring five male hen harriers vanished from their nesting sites across the moors of northern England in what can only be described as dodgy circumstances. Whilst officially the RSPB declines to speculate on the cause of the hen harrier disappearances, many conservationists now believe that ‘rogue gamekeepers’ are illegally targeting the birds as they travel long distances to feed, often on young grouse chicks.
This backdrop of continued illegal killing has resulted in campaigners questioning the controversial decision by Iceland, the budget supermarket, to begin selling red grouse ahead of the start of the grouse shooting season on August 12th.
The Raptor Persecution Scotland website, which highlights the illegal persecution of birds of prey across the UK, believes that the selling of grouse is at odds with Iceland’s own policies on corporate responsibility. In particular they are concerned that the grouse could be sourced from moorland where hen harriers have been illegally shot. Plus there are concerns over the risks to human health from grouse that were killed with a lead shot.
Consequently the website is now asking people to turn the heat up on Iceland by emailing a number of detailed questions to Iceland’s boss, Malcolm Walker, who is himself an enthusiastic supporter of shooting.The decision by Iceland to start selling grouse comes as campaigners wait to see whether M&S will start selling grouse again.
Last year the company, which is currently one of Ethical Consumer’s Best Buy supermarkets, took grouse off their shelves following concerns about the how the birds were sourced, with M&S saying that they were unable to secure enough ‘responsibly sourced’ birds. At the time of Ethical Consumer going to press M&S had yet to make a decision, though campaigners fear that grouse will indeed make a controversial return to the M&S shelves.
So much for the bad news
The good news is that whilst hen harriers are being bumped off on desolate, windswept moors far away from the public eye, the plight of these spectacular birds is now coming to the attention of growing numbers of people thanks to the hard efforts of campaigners.
“We were faced with a conundrum of how to get public support for a campaign against the illegal persecution of hen harriers when most people hadn’t even heard of the bird,” admits Charlie Moores from Birders Against Wildlife Crime.
Recognising that increased publicity was key to stopping the killing of hen harriers, Moores was part of the team that launched the very first Hen Harrier Day which was held last August in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District and attended by almost 600 people.
“The aim of Hen Harrier Day is to increase awareness of the illegal persecution of hen harriers and to celebrate an iconic bird of prey,” says Moores. This year’s Hen Harrier Day was held on 9th August in the Peak District’s western moors and at venues across the UK. “We’re not talking about banning grouse shooting,” says Moores. “Our approach is to stop wildlife crime and we believe that the only way that this is going to happen is to get enough of the British public to say that this cannot continue.”
Despite the recent setbacks, Dr Mark Avery, a wildlife campaigner and former director of the RSPB, is optimistic about the hen harrier’s long-term future: “The evidence of the harm that intensive grouse moor management has upon the environment is being increasingly recognised by policy makers in a way that would have been inconceivable a couple of years ago,” says Dr Avery, the author of a recently published book on the grouse shooting industry.
“The best thing that can help the hen harrier is that the public are beginning to hear more and more about these birds and their predicament,” says Dr Avery, “because this is what will save them in the end.”
for updates on the campaign
Inglorious - Conflict in the Uplands, by Dr Mark Avery, 2015 www.bloomsbury.com
Download Ethical Consumer’s report on the grouse industry.